Local & State

Summer institute teaches media skills to NC teens

The roots of the program run by the North Carolina Scholastic Media Association go back to the 1930s.

Two high school students sitting at anchor desk of a TV studio on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill.
The North Carolina Scholastic Media Institute was attended by 150 students from 24 different North Carolina high schools. Students learned several different journalism skills, including broadcasting at the Curtis Media Center. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Aspiring broadcast journalist Madeline Topham from East Mecklenburg High in Charlotte stands outside the Curtis Media Center, practicing her standup for a student-produced newscast.

Photojournalist Josh Mouser of First Flight High in Kill Devil Hills edits photos from a scavenger hunt that challenged him to get something different from everybody else.

Sofia Ahmad, the associate editor-in-chief of the school newspaper at West Johnston High in Benson, writes a profile of state legislator Tim Longest, whom she and other students interviewed in a news conference minutes before.

The three of them were among the 150 students from 24 high schools across the state who, accompanied by chaperones from their schools, came to Chapel Hill last month for a three-day deep dive into all things media. At the North Carolina Scholastic Media Association’s annual summer institute, students are treated like the professionals they admire, learning from skilled educators, many from the Hussman School of Journalism and Media.

“I was a little nervous coming in because I didn’t have a lot of experience, and I didn’t know how tough the assignments were going to be,” said Topham, who added she’s now more likely to study media in college. “But once I got here and we started doing it, I really loved it.”

High school students in a large lecture hall at a journalism camp on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill.

Attendees of the institute could choose focuses, including broadcast news, web design, news, photojournalism and yearbook. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

The tradition of students across North Carolina coming to UNC-Chapel Hill to learn about journalism has a long history.

“It goes back to 1936 when students at the Daily Tar Heel first invited area high school students to join them here for events and then led to the formation of this association,” said NCSMA director Monica Hill.

Carolina students remain at the forefront of the association. A team of four student assistants help with outreach and preparation for the institute and other programming, including a sports journalism camp and statewide seasonal workshops.

“The work is really high-intensive because we have lots of programming, and we run a statewide contest,” Hill said. “They interact with K-12 teachers and students and parents, and they’re very mission-oriented jobs. They are students who want to help students.”

Two women speaking to an audience of high school students. One is holding a microphone.

Audrey Kashatus ’25 (left) said “the important thing” is that the high school students are “interested in college journalism, no matter what college that might be.” (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

Audrey Kashatus ’25, a media and journalism major, said she appreciates the opportunity to tell high schoolers what they can “expect and what they can look forward to” in college. On the camp’s opening day, she moderated a Q&A on college journalism with her Daily Tar Heel colleague Emmy Martin ’25, the paper’s former editor-in-chief.

Some institute attendees go on to thrive at Carolina and beyond. NCSMA student assistant Abigail Welch ’24 later became editor-in-chief of Cellar Door, Carolina’s oldest undergraduate literary magazine. Former NCSMA student assistants have become communication pros, like Kendra Douglas ’16, a sideline reporter for the Orlando Magic, and Timothy Daye ’18, the Chicago Bears’ manager of social media content creation.

The institute also attracts alumni as teachers, like Julia Wall ’13, a professional photographer and videographer who has worked for The News & Observer and The Assembly. She said her current job wasn’t on her radar when she was her students’ age.

The institute highlights media as a potential career path but also shows how the training can be useful in other professions. For example, Ahmad is interested in law, but said reporting is “just a great skill to have.”

While some of the attendees may one day become Tar Heels, the purpose of the institute is to prepare students to excel wherever they go.

“The important thing is that they are interested in college journalism, no matter what college that might be,” Kashatus said.

An instructor speaking to a student working at a computer.

Julia Wall ’13 assists a student in her photojournalism class at the North Carolina Scholastic Media Institute. (Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)